Modern folk singer-songwriter Bobby Long was never a big fan of protest songs while he was growing up in London.
“I was exposed to it in a bad way,” Long said recently from his girlfriend’s family’s place in Poughkeepsie, on a break between tours. “I don’t know. It was just kind of, white middle class kids singing about stuff. I was in London ... they were singing about weird stuff, the music was terrible; they were only using it as a vessel.”
He changed his mind as a student at London Metropolitan University, where he graduated in 2009. While there, he wrote his thesis on the social impact of American folk music, delving into the back catalogs of Bob Dylan, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie and countless others — all of whom would have a major influence on the budding young songwriter.
Washington Avenue Stage (Lark and Washington)
11:25 a.m. The Chronicles
12:30 p.m. Matt & The Bad Ideas
1:45 p.m. Barons In The Attic
3 p.m. The Charlie Watts Riots
4:20 p.m. Bobby Long
Madison Avenue Stage (Lark and Madison)
11:25 a.m. Grainbelt
12:30 p.m. The Last Conspirators
1:45 p.m. Rodeo Barons
3 p.m. The Molly Durnin Trio
4:20 p.m. Willie Nile
More info: Free. 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Lark Street, Albany. www.albany.com
“It definitely opened my eyes to the fact that you can write about something that’s important to you, and song is great because of it,” Long said. “It’s not weakened because you’re trying to fit in words. As I’m getting older, as well, I want to write about stuff — even in a subtle way — I want to write about stuff that’s important to me.”
The musical influence of these artists can be immediately heard on Long’s earliest EPs, his first official studio album “A Winter Tale” (2011) and most famously his contribution to the “Twilight” movie soundtrack, “Let Me Sign,” sung by the film’s star (and Long’s college buddy) Robert Pattinson. It’s also there on Long’s sophomore album “Wishbone,” released in February. But while Long’s prior releases have been primarily acoustic affairs, “Wishbone” finds the songwriter stretching out with a more hard-driving, full band sound.
In November Long performed a stripped-down acoustic set at The Linda in Albany. He’s returning to the Capital Region in an electric trio setup to headline the Washington Stage at the 32nd annual LarkFEST Saturday.
He’ll cap off a full day of music sponsored by WEXT, Exit 97.7-FM. This is the fourth year the local-minded station has curated the music at the street festival, having taken over from Vermont-based WEQX-FM in 2010.
Long is looking forward to playing new material, as well as re-imagining songs from his earlier albums in a more rock setting.
“On my first album, it was kind of half-band, half-solo. There are a few songs from it now that we’re playing, and we’re playing them kind of in the format of the ‘Wishbone’ album — they’re a bit heavier,” Long said. “At the same time, there was an acoustic song called ‘The Bounty of Mary Jane’ on the first album that we’ve tried doing with drums, and it’s quite fun. It keeps the song useful. When you’re doing 30 dates in a row, sometimes the songs get a bit old. It’s like going out for a beer with the same person over and over; you run out of things to do.”
Part of the reason for the edgier songs on “Wishbone” was the environment Long was writing in. While the songs on “A Winter Tale” were written when Long was still living in London, “Wishbone” was composed in New York City and recorded with producer Ted Hutt in Los Angeles.
“The one thing I can remember about every song I write is generally where I was when I wrote it,” Long said. “You feel different writing in different places, being in a different setting. If I were to write a song in France, it would different to all the songs I’ve been writing in America.
“With the Wishbone album, when I was writing I would go out and get coffee and stuff, and you would see things,” Long continued. “You would think about it, think about people you’d meet, get some weird inspiration seeing a taxi cab. In the same way, if I was in Paris, going out I’d be inspired in the cafes, seeing the architecture. It doesn’t have a massive hold on me, but it’s a little bit different, and it offers something different, too.”
The longer recording time — four weeks as opposed to the two weeks he spent tracking “A Winter Tale,” primarily live — also allowed Long a chance to create a lusher sound with more instrumentation. He worked with a handful of veteran players on the album, including drummer Mark Stepro (Ben Kweller, Tim Easton), bassist Chris Morrissey (Kweller, Mason Jennings) and guitarist Rich Hinman (Rosanne Cash, Rhett Miller).
“It was great because it gave us more time to work out exactly what we were doing, working out parts,” Long said. “But at the same time there’s always time to — you overthink it and start fiddling around with the stuff, when your natural reaction, your natural way of playing is often the best. But we were pretty careful to keep that in check.”
Fans have embraced the new sound, and Long is already looking ahead to his third album — when he spoke with The Gazette, he was just finishing up the songwriting for a new record. While he wouldn’t go into too much detail, he’s sure this album will once again go in a new direction.
“It’s kind of hard to say right now,” Long said. “It’s gonna be different than my last record, ‘Wishbone,’ I think. I’m in a weird place right now — I’m kind of doing stuff for ‘Wishbone,’ so I’ve been surprised that I’ve written so many new songs.”